Wednesday, January 4, 2012

theatre review THE MOUNTAINTOP, Broadway, January 3

Last night we took the journey to The Mountaintop and what a journey it was.  The fictionalized play that represents Martin Luther King, Jr's last night before he is assassinated, is a two character piece that isn't at all what it first appears to be.  With Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett as the leads, it also has plenty of Hollywood star power.

Katori Hall's play, that also happened to have won the Olivier Award for Best New Play in London in 2009, takes place the evening of April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis.  The next day Dr. King would be shot dead outside the hotel, but this evening finds him tired from the speech he has just given, restless and alone but fortunately he finds someone to talk to when the hotel maid brings him a pot of coffee.

Samuel L. Jackson
Jackson doesn't really look like King, but he has the actions, speech and demeanor of him.  The play represents him as an "everyman" what with his bad habit of smoking, lapses into womanizing and even his smelly feet.  In doing so, the play tries to depict King as someone who is just like us, and the play basically achieves that goal.  However, the bits and pieces of speeches that King delivers instantly make him rise above any thought of him being a simple "everyman."  Jackson is making his Broadway debut with this role and while he has had various other stage credits before it is a perfect part for him to show a more quiet side that he doesn't always get to display in the various movies he's made.  His performance is simply understated, never showy or out of character with perfect touches of the range of emotions, from fear to happiness, which adds a nice dimension to the man that we all believe King truly was.

Angela Bassett
Bassett as the maid has a tough part to tackle as she is basically all over the place.   Some people might think she is over acting or mis-directed, but to me she perfectly captures the various ways someone would react when coming in contact with someone like King.   When you add to this the fact that her character isn't at all what she first appears to be it better explains many of the actions her character makes.  She also has two major monologues, one about 30 minutes into the show and the other towards the very end, that get huge applause from the audience.  The first is a sermon she creates that is hilariously peppered with obscenities and the second is a sermon of a whole other nature, delivered in an almost rap-like fashion that, when combined with the set and projection design almost becomes an out of body experience.

I don't want to give too much of the play away except to say that it has a lovely theatricality to it, something that can never be achieved in a film or on tv and something that can really only be experienced as a live experience.  The ending of the play makes you really think about your role in the world and how we are all ultimately connected even by a simple action we can make and also made me think about what would I do if I somehow found out that I was going to die the next day.

The Mountaintop is playing through January 22nd.

Official Show Site

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